Most city shelters still aren’t taking in homeless San Diegans amid a continuing spike in coronavirus cases.
The Housing Commission reported 39 positive results among residents and staff at shelters operated by Father Joe’s Villages and Alpha Project late last week. That’s on top of 128 positives the city reported in the previous three weeks as the omicron wave hit the region, a surge that late last month inspired a scramble to isolate people staying in packed shelters due to a lack of county-backed hotel rooms typically used for that purpose.
At a Monday City Council committee hearing, Housing Commission Executive Vice President Lisa Jones said the city and service providers set up 99 temporary isolation beds after county hotel rooms hit capacity in late December as hospitals also scrambled to secure isolation spaces for discharging patients.
Jones said more shelter residents are now moving into county hotel rooms.
The county reported late Monday that 140 shelter residents have moved temporarily into isolation hotels since Dec. 27. As of Saturday, 98 of the 137 rooms the county had available for that purpose were filled, though the county has noted that vacant rooms aren’t “necessarily staffed and ready for occupancy.”
Hafsa Kaka, who leads the city’s Homelessness Strategies and Solutions Department, said Monday that the city and county are now meeting twice weekly to discuss their collective isolation capacity, the latest COVID guidance and how to keep shelter residents safe.
For now, Jones said, federal guidance suggests shelters should halt intakes if they have three or more positive cases. That has meant that Father Joe’s and Alpha Project, which each operate multiple city shelters, have been unable to welcome newcomers for weeks.
For now, Jones said, only Alpha Project’s harm reduction shelter focused on serving people with behavioral health challenges in Midway and PATH’s downtown shelter have been able to take in some clients.
Jones said she is hopeful additional city shelters can start welcoming new clients soon and that she expects to give the go-ahead for service providers to work overtime to move more people in quickly when that happens. She acknowledged reopening shelters to newcomers could create its own COVID concerns, but said the county has made clear that city shelters are following all necessary protocols to keep residents safe.
“We’ve had no direction that we need to do something differently than we’re doing it,” Jones said. “It’s simply a reflection of the broader community, unfortunately.”